Lolita (1955) by Vladimir Nabokov is a famous novel narrated by a 37-year-old man named Humbert Humbert who has a strong admiration for young girls. Humbert takes advantage of the role of the narrator by using rhetoric in order to influence the readers into thinking that the love he has for Dolores Haze – a 12-year-old girl whom Humbert usually refers to as Lolita – is not wrong and should not be perceived as a crime. Since their age difference is so far apart, Humbert’s actions and thoughts about Lolita can be seen as repulsive and pedophilic. However, oblivious to the fact that Lolita does not feel the same way towards him, Humbert attempts to counter this philosophy by interpreting Lolita’s actions as sexual to justify his actions. In utilization of these excuses, Humbert attempts to manipulate the reader into thinking that he is the victim instead of Lolita. Part 1 of the novel ends with Humbert saying, “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, exhibit number one is what the seraphs, the misinformed, simple, noble-winged seraphs, envied. Look at this tangle of thorns.” (?) In this quote, Humbert uses the metaphor “tangle of thorns” to describe the messy conflict he has being in love with a nymphet. By describing the conflict as a “tangle of thorns”, Humbert is suggesting that the situation is more complicated than it looks. Throughout the novel, Humbert tries to explain his side of this impediment and as the narrator, attempts to make the reader sympathize for him. Conversely, although Humbert is the narrator of the story, it is very important that the reader is not blinded by Humbert’s enlightenments. In fact, contrary to Humbert’s intentions to portray himself as a victim, his excuses are irrelevant, he is ignorant to Lolita’s uneasiness towards him, and unknowingly though explicitly, Humbert himself admits to being a predator. This proves that Lolita is actually the sufferer of the story and that there is no reason for the reader to sympathize for Humbert.
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To begin, the reader should not feel the need to sympathize with Humbert because the explanations that he uses in order to justify his actions are irrelevant. One of the excuses that Humbert makes to rationalize his relationship with Lolita to manipulate the reader into sympathize with him is when he gives his statistics about pubescent girls.
The median age of pubescence for girls has been found to be thirteen years and nine months in New York and Chicago. The age varies for individuals from ten, or earlier, to seventeen[…] I have all the characteristics which, according to writers on the sex interests of children, start the responses stirring in a little girl: clean-cut jaw, muscular hand, deep sonorous voice, broad shoulder. Moreover, I am said to resemble some crooner or actor chap on whom Lo has a crush. (?)
In this passage, Humbert tries to convince the reader that the connection he has with Lolita is acceptable because according to science, she is almost a teenager which means she is almost not a child anymore. He even suggests that it is reasonable to be in love with Lolita because she is also interested in him since he resembles a famous person that she has a crush on. Although Humbert shares this excuse as a fact, it is important for the reader to realize the senselessness of this point. Just because Lolita is nearly pubescent does not make his obsession any less wrong. To further help his case, Humbert uses the laws of different countries to prove that being in love with a nymphet should not be recognized as inappropriate. On page ?, Humbert says, “Marriage and cohabitation before the age of puberty are still not uncommon in certain East Indian provinces. Lepcha old men of eighty copulate with girls of eight, and nobody minds.” Again, although this idea of marriage in East India may be true, the fact that he is using a different country’s law in order to defend himself is pointless to his argument. Lastly, in chapter 31, Humbert adds the idea of Lolita not being a virgin in order to make it seem as though pursuing her is not immoral, “Sensitive gentlewomen of the jury, I was not even her first lover” (?). This last point that Humbert gives is irrelevant to his argument because Lolita’s virginity does not determine whether or not she is interested in Humbert. Not only does is not determine her interest for him, but it also does not establish whether or not she should be romantic with someone who is 25 years older than her. Despite Humbert’s ability to list details in attempt to manipulate the reader, the reader should not sympathize for him because his reasonings are irrelevant and do not prove his argument.
Another reason why the reader of this text should not sympathize for Humbert is because although Humbert thinks that the affection he has for Lolita is mutual, it isn’t. Throughout the novel, Lolita explicitly shows her distress towards Humbert but due to the blindness of being in love with her and his strong determination to defend himself, Humbert does not notice that he makes Lolita feel uncomfortable. Lolita’s discomfort is presented in numerous passages in the novel, “[…] and bending toward her warm upturned russet face somber Humbert pressed his mouth to her fluttering eyelid. She laughed, and brushed past me out of the room” (?). The fact that Lolita immediately ran out of the room after Humbert kisses her is an obvious sign that she did not want that to happen, however Humbert only thinks about himself and the pleasure he feels afterward. Another example of Humbert’s oblivion to Lolita’s discomfort is even after she clearly tells him to “cut it out”, “At last I was right behind her when I had the unfortunate idea of blustering a trifle–shaking her by the scruff of the neck and that sort of thing to cover my real manõge, and she said in a shrill brief whine: “Cut it out!”–most coarsely, the little wench, and with a ghastly grin Humbert the Humble beat a gloomy retreat while she went on wisecracking streetward” (?). Even though Lolita was unambiguous in letting Humbert know that she felt uncomfortable, he remains ignorant to her perspective and misinterprets her agitation as a joke. This is proven when Humbert describes her reaction as “wisecracking”. A final example that validates Lolita’s protest towards Humbert’s admiration for her is when she physically hits Humbert after he touches her inappropriately. “Desperate, dying Humbert patted her clumsily on her coccyx, and she struck him, quite painfully, with one of the late Mr. Haze’s shoetrees. “Doublecrosser,” she said as I crawled downstairs rubbing my arm with a great show of rue. She did not condescend to have dinner with Hum and mum: washed her hair and went to bed with her ridiculous books” (?). Not only does Lolita hit Humbert, but she also refuses to eat dinner to avoid being in Humbert’s presence. Lolita’s reactions to Humbert’s misbehavior is very clear, but despite the signs she gives, Humbert remains unaware. In defiance of Hubert’s objective to achieve the sympathy of the reader, one should not at all feel apologetic towards him due to the unfortunate circumstance that he is a harassment to Lolita.
In addition to his irrationality and obliviousness, Humbert also makes the thoughtless move of unintentionally confessing that he is a predator. By admitting this, Humbert contradicts his entire argumentation of being the victim, which is why the reader should not feel any obligation to pity him. In chapter 11, Humbert describes himself as a “predator that prefers a moving prey to a motionless one” (?) while preparing his next move on Lolita. Another instance Humbert reveals his blameworthiness is when he describes what he would have done to Lolita had been courageous enough, “”
– A brave Humbert would have played with her most disgustingly (yesterday, for instance, when she was again in my room to show me her drawings, school-artware); he might have bribed her–and got away with it.
– Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, the majority of sex offenders that hanker for some throbbing, sweet-moaning, physical but not necessarily coital, relation with a girl-child, are innocuous, inadequate, passive, timid strangers who merely ask the community to allow them to pursue their practically harmless, so-called aberrant behavior, their little hot wet private acts of sexual deviation without the police and society cracking down upon them. We are not sex fiends! We do not rape as good soldiers do. We are unhappy, mild, dog-eyed gentlemen, sufficiently well integrated to control our urge in the presence of adults, but ready to give years and years of life for one chance to touch a nymphet. Emphatically, no killers are we.
In conclusion, despite the fact that Humbert attempts to take advantage of the role of the narrator by using rhetoric to justify his actions, it is unnecessary to sympathize for him because his justifications are extraneous to his arguments, Lolita is the true victim, and he even admits to playing the role of the predator in the story, which contradicts what he has been trying to debate. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov is a great novel that teaches readers that they should not always automatically trust the narrator. By close reading the text, we are able to read the story through the perspectives of multiple characters and better understand what is actually going on in the story.
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